Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Organic, Natural and Healthy

If you are interested in your health, you likely are (or should be) concerned and knowledgeable about what food you eat to fuel your body and activities.  While a lot of progress has been made regarding food labels, there are a numerous caveats with food label terminology and associated labeling laws that can leave consumers scratching their heads or worse, making poor choices.

Much confusion abounds over the terms, organic, natural and healthy. Used frequently, advertising agencies want us to believe these terms are synonymous with healthy.  Just because a food is labeled organic, natural or healthy, consumers need to be educated to make good decisions to determine if a food labeled as such is indeed healthy.

Organic is defined as containing carbon. All edible foods contain carbon and organic, in food terms, is defined as free of chemical pesticides and certain farming practices or production systems. According to the National Organic Program (NOP) the organic label can be placed on food if the produce is 95% or 100% organic.  95% organic may contain 5% if ingredients not grown organically and they must be listed on the label.  100% organic must no contain pesticides and must contain all organic ingredients with the exception of water and salt and ingredients must be listed on the label.

One advantage to organic food is that it is better for the environment.  However, according to Shari Portnoy, Registered Dietitian and Certified Food Nutritionist, more than 1400 studies have concluded that organic food is not healthier food.  Organic food is a healthy production system, not a healthy eating system.  If you care about the environment, buy organic. If your main concern is your health, focus your diet on healthy food selections, mainly fruits and vegetables.

Confusion also abounds over the term “GMO,” genetically modified organism or bioengineered foods. GMO food is one that has been produced using a living organism in the process.  The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70 and 75% of all processed foods in America may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants. 

While the main benefit of GMO foods is drought and disease resistance, the FDA says genetically modified foods do NOT require special labeling unless the composition of the food product is changed.  Many of today’s grains are GMO modified and some studies are revealing these foods can be contributing to the obesity epidemic in today’s society.

The term “natural” has not been clearly defined by the FDA, though it is extensively used on food labels. Although not defining the term, the FDA doesn’t object to the term being used for foods without added colorings, artificial flavorings and synthetic ingredients.  Unfortunately the term “synthetic” can be manipulated to be allowed into natural foods. 

When shopping for food, beware of product terms as they are not as regulated or defined as we are lead to believe. Advertising agencies and marketing teams work hard to “sell” us that a product is healthy when that may not be the case.  Also be cautioned of any food that says ‘fortified with vitamins and minerals.” If a food has to be fortified with vitamins and minerals, it means the product is highly refined that all the good qualities have been stripped away in the production process.

Eating healthy takes some effort and education.  One way to eat healthy is to make sure the majority of your diet is made up of fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb to follow is if a food comes in a wrapper, box or sack, there is a high probability it is highly processed and not nearly as healthy as other choices.

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer and exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events. 

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